Public sees Wheeling Police Department space needs

WHEELING — The Secret Service needed to coordinate plans with the Wheeling Police Department prior to President Donald Trump’s visit last Saturday, but there was no place large enough in its headquarters for more than four people to meet at once.

Parties involved with security planning instead met in the nearby auditorium at West Virginia Northern Community College, according to Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger.

“It’s very embarrassing, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

Fifteen people turned out for the first of five open houses scheduled at the police station this month to get a first-hand look at why city officials say the city needs a new public safety building.

Those on the tour expressed shock at what they saw.

“It’s not attractive,” said Lynne Sommer. “A person should be able to work in a place that’s at least somewhat attractive.”

Others present remarked it should at least be more functional, safe and secure.

“I didn’t expect to see this,” said Celia Stewart. “It’s amazing. People have to come to see it to believe it.”

On Nov. 6, Wheeling voters will decide on a $22 million bond issue to build a new public safety building downtown. The levy would cost the average homeowner about $105 annually, according to information provided by the city.

“I totally get it that the taxpayer feels the burden,” Schwertfeger said. “But there was never a need more than this.”

The public saw there is limited space for evidence in the police station. Until it can be officially catalogued and stored in a small evidence room, evidence such as marijuana and other narcotics is placed in lockers in a small office near where officers work.

It typically takes two days for evidence to be processed, and the officers breathe in the aroma until it is stored.

“I once tripped over a (recovered) snow-blower here for three weeks because there was no place else to put it,” Schwertfeger said.

Recovered bicycles also line hallways in the police station.

There is no female restroom in the police station. Female officers and civilians who work there are forced to use a public restroom outside the station within the City-County Building. When the building is closed off during evening and weekend hours, women must take a long circuitous route to the restroom.

Women detained at the station aren’t taken to the public restroom. Instead, they use the same men’s restroom used by male police officers. One of the two stalls in the room is designated “officers only.”

Schwertfeger also pointed out there is no lunch room in the police station. Officers often eat their lunch in the booking room sitting at a table “where an officer may have been testing for Fetanyl just 12 hours before.”

Future police station tours are set for 6 p.m. Oct. 10; 11 a.m. Oct. 13; 7 p.m. Oct. 16; and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 25.

Those wishing to attend are being asked to register online at wheelingwv.gov/policetours or call (304) 234-3732.

The Wheeling Police Station consists of 4,650 square feet of space. The new Marshall County Sheriff’s Department facility has about 26,000 square feet, according to Schwertfeger.

The proposed public safety building, as designed, would provide the police department 18,770 square feet of space. The Wheeling Fire Department would have 24,510 square feet. There also would be 13,445 square feet of shared space in the three-floor, 56,725-foot building.

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